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Notes from 2007 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival.

Juno MacGuff (played magnificently by TIFF regular Ellen Page), finds herself pregnant, knocked up by her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) on their first attempt at sex. Juno, with the help of her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), takes it upon herself to find some adoptive parents. Courtesy of the local Penny Saver, she soon finds childless couple Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner).

With the help of her surprisingly supportive father (J.K. Simmons) and stepmom (Allison Janney), Juno embarks on her pregnancy, which ends up affecting everyone in some unexpected and touching ways.

This was a great film, probably the best I've seen so far at the festival. Ellen Page gives a wonderful performance as Juno, convincingly portraying her as a real independent free spirit. Michael Cera was good and funny, although I occasionally had trouble divorcing his character from George-Michael Bluth. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney did a nice turn as Juno's parents. Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman were great as the adoptive parents who, while seemingly the perfect suburban couple on the outside, have their own sets of issues on the inside. Bateman especially gave a great performance as Mark, who is worried about sacrificing his own dreams as he connects with Juno over a shared love of music and the reality of the baby sinks in.

This is director Jason Reitman's follow up to his first feature film, Thank You For Smoking, which also debuted at the festival on the exact same date and time in 2005. This is screenwriter Diablo Cody's first feature film, and she put together a refreshing take on the typical teen pregnancy story with some great dialogue for the actors. The audience laughed so hard at some of the lines, they drowned out the ones that followed.

Young People Fucking

Notes from 2007 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival.

The first feature film from director/co-writer Martin Gero and actor/co-writer Aaron Abrams, Young People F--- (censored since IMDb won't let me put the actual word in) is exactly as the title implies, with five completely unrelated story lines about people having sex. There is the ex-boyfriend and girlfriend, reuniting for an evening out just as friends; the best friends who see each other as a convenient way to relieve their pent up lust without having to turn to some random, poorly chosen pickup; the couple, whose love life in the bedroom has lost its spark; the first date, with a player trying to get lucky with a woman he just met; and the roommates, one of who tries to draw the other into a threesome with his girlfriend. The characters run the gamut of emotions; some are insecure, some are over-confident; some have baggage in their relationship, some want to be intimate, and others just want to screw. Intercut amongst one another, each story proceeds from a prelude through to foreplay, to the act itself, to an interlude, and finally down to the climax and its denouement. In the end, the stories are full of both beginnings and endings for all of the characters.

The film definitely lives up to its title, but in a humorous, warm, and personal way. While there's stuff there that might make your grandmother blush, don't go in thinking you're going to get some sort of hard-core film or some generic teen sex comedy. It was easy to warm up to the characters and get a sense of their history and who they are without a lot of obvious exposition. The actors were good across the board, although Josh Dean's character was a bit too nerdly earnest for my taste. While you may not leave with any great, deep universal truths answered, the film got a lot of laughs and was enjoyable throughout, and hopefully it won't suffer for its title once it gets released.

Kantoku · Banzai!

Notes from 2007 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival.

Glory to the Filmmaker! is the latest work from the mind of Takeshi Kitano. Featuring a slightly fictionalized version of himself, the film follows Kitano in a search for his next big hit, following his public declaration that he would stop doing Yakuza movies. In a wild and funny journey, Kitano takes us through his failed, aborted, and commercially unsuccessful attempts, featuring a number of co-stars from his past movies. The journey spans every genre imaginable, from a quiet, introspective story of a just-retired salaryman (reminiscent of the works of Ozu), to a ninja action film, to multiple relationship stories, to a film set in the 50's recalling the hardship and depression of post-war Japan, before finally settling on an offbeat sci-fi flick.

That film is ostensibly about an asteroid hurtling towards Earth, but soon diverts to a story about mother-daughter con artists who are trying to scam Kitano's character, an aide to an eccentric rich man who funds all sorts of oddball causes. All the while, Kitano is constantly changing into a life-sized doll version of himself. And if none of that makes any sense, then you've pretty much captured the feeling of watching that part of the movie.

Kitano was not present at the screening, but he (or rather, his doll surrogate) taped an interview for the festival that preceded the film, which pretty much set the tone for what was to follow. The film is about as self-referential as his last work screened at the festival, Takeshis'. The first half of the movie was surprisingly accessible and hilarious, but the second was as impenetrable, surreal, and self-mocking as you'd come to expect of Kitano's later work. Not that that is a bad thing, but don't come into it expecting anything resembling a straightforward narrative. If you're a fan of Kitano's work and his fertile imagination, then you'll enjoy the film, but I imagine many others will be lost in the last half of the picture.

Starting Out in the Evening

Notes from 2007 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival.

Starting Out in the Evening is based on the novel by Brian Morton, and stars Frank Langella in an understated role as Leonard Schiller, a once great novelist and now-retired literary professor. His previous books now long out-of-print, Leonard is struggling to finish his latest novel, a decade and counting in the making. Further distracting him from his novel is his genial but occasionally strained relationship with his daughter Ariel (Lily Taylor), who is nearing 40 and wanting a baby, but stuck back in a relationship with her ex-boyfriend Casey (Adrian Lester), who is most decidedly against the idea.

Another complication comes in the form of a young grad student, Heather (Lauren Ambrose), who has made Leonard the subject of her master's thesis. Heather is determined to discover the overriding theme in Schiller's work, the early part of which inspired her to pursue her dreams in college. The conversations that Leonard and Heather have cover the gamut of literary criticism and the creative process, touching on issues such as whether an author's personal life should inform their work, and whether an author can be pigeonholed into a single thematic thread.

As Leonard becomes more invested in Heather, these themes end up leading all the characters reaching pivotal decisions in their lives, paralleling the thrust of Leonard's early work around personal freedom.

Langella gives a fine performance as Leonard, who sees his time running out, and wonders if he has enough time, energy, and creativity left to finish one last book. Lauren Ambrose leaves Six Feet Under behind her as Heather, a driven but self-centered woman who wants to fit Leonard's books into her own preconceived notions and feelings, dismissing as less important those that don't fit the mold.

Lily Taylor was great as Ariel, a woman wanting the closeness and depth of relationship that she can't get from her father, so much so that she is willing to subordinate her own wants and needs. Adrian Lester plays Casey as the exact opposite of Ariel, a man who enjoys his relationship with Ariel, but not at the expense of his own dreams. Ariel doesn't come across as a victim; there's a hint of strength under the surface. And Casey doesn't come across as a complete jerk; there's a genuine love there that he doesn't fully appreciate.

All-in-all, Starting Out in the Evening ends up the night as an enjoyable movie, with good performances all around.


Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Runaway follows two brothers, Michael (played by Aaron Stanford from Tadpole and X2) and his younger brother Dylan (Zach Savage) who have moved to a small town. Michael has taken a job in a roadside gas station, while Dylan spends his time playing alone in their motel room. In flashbacks and letters to his psychotherapist, it soon becomes apparent that Michael has taken Dylan to escape from their parents, played by Melissa Leo and Michael Gaston, for reasons that are soon revealed. While Michael is trying to lay low, his growing attraction to his co-worker Carly (Robin Tunney) and his own ever-present demons seem to be jeopardizing his attempt to start a new life for him and his brother and leading the film to an explosive conclusion.

Runaway is a surprisingly good film, that features great performances from Stanford and Tunney. They and the script from screenwriter Bill True help to elevate what could have been a conventional film into something more substantial and emotional. The film does not yet have distribution, but hopefully someone will pick it up so that a wider audience can enjoy and appreciate it.

Director Tim McCann, screenwriter Bill True, and producer David Viola were in attendance at the screening and did a Q&A after the film: - The film was made a year ago in Catskill, NY, and took about six months to complete.

  • The script ran around about 95 pages, which is relatively short. They workshopped the script with the actors, and developed the material as they went along. They ended up cutting about 15 minutes or so to arrive at the final cut.

  • The story originally came from a short story that screenwriter Bill True wrote in 1998, - They saw about 35 boys for the role of Dylan during casting. Zach Savage had a photographic memory of the script. Tim McCann's direction for him was basically "say this line, wait five seconds, say the next line." But as an audience member commented, the performance that came out seemed very natural.

  • On casting: McCann knew Melissa Leo from directing an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street. Terry Kinney (who plays Michael's psychotherapist in the film) came on board at Robin Tunney's suggestion. McCann and Tunney are friends. Michael Gaston was the best out of the 5 or 6 actors who they looked at for the father.

  • Producer David Viola suggested Aaron Stanford just after Tim McCann came on board as director. McCann thought he was a question mark after seeing Tadpole, but after sitting down with him, knew that he was right for the role.

  • The characters of Michael and Dylan were originally younger, but they shifted the ages after casting the actors.

  • A marquee the characters pass in the film actually features one of McCann's earlier films.

  • This is the first produced screenplay of Bill True. Just last Monday (September 12, 2005) he turned in the draft of his next script, The Angel on the Horse, which they hope to start shooting in early 2006.

La vie avec mon père

La Vie avec mon père (Life With My Father)
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

La Vie avec mon père is the second feature film from director and co-writer Sébastien Rose. The film recently won the Audience Award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic. In Rose's own words, the movie is about "patrimony and brotherhood, and what we leave behind when we die." La Vie avec mon père follows two brothers, Patrick (David La Haye), a high-powered executive at a pharmaceutical company, and Paul (Paul Ahmarani) a writer who seems to spend most of his time slacking off and selling what ever drugs he can steal from his brother. The reappearance of their famous writer father François (Raymond Bouchard) in their life soon throws everything into turmoil. For various reasons, all three of them, along with Paul's free-spirited girlfriend Sylvie (Hélène Florent) are soon thrown together in François' dilapidated house and they are forced to examine their feelings and relationships.

La Vie avec mon père walks the line between comedy and drama, but walks it well. François is played to great effect by Raymond Bouchard, who has to portray an aging lothario who must come to terms with his failing body. Both David La Haye and Paul Ahmarani are good at playing the brothers who are polar opposites, but who still ultimately share a love for their father and each other. And Hélène Florent is wonderful as Paul's girlfriend, who seems to know each other characters better than they know themselves. The story is very good and heartfelt, and there are a lot of touching moments that don't cross the boundary of being overly sentimental.

Director Sébastien Rose did a Q&A session after the film: - As a filmmaker, he prefers to asks questions, not give answers in his films.

  • The house used in the film is in Outremont, in Montreal. Rose spotted the house while filming his first feature, but couldn't do anything with it given the budget he had at the time. The house had to be seriously distressed to make it fit in this film.

  • The movie was released in Quebec last spring, and now they are taking it on the road; they've been to the Czech Republic, and plan to go to Belgium.

  • The film is not autobiographical for Rose, but is personal in its style and motifs. The film is very personal for the other co-writer, Stéfanie Lasnier.

  • Any similarities to Les Invasions barbares (The Barbarian Invasions) is unintentional. They were actually filming and watching the Oscars on a monitor when The Barbarian Invasions won the foreign film Oscar. Rose said that the whole question of fathers and their legacy is in the air, that the whole issue of identity in Quebec makes the question of the father very important.

  • Patrick's wife in the story is not really very important; she is more just a way to characterize Patrick. The story is really about the two sons coping with the return of their father in their lives. The dogs that live in François house are also just a way to characterize Paul and François, that they are both cool and eccentric.

  • Sylvie is a portrayal of all women, or the ideal woman, and in fact most of the male characters see her in that way.

  • The house in the film represents the body of the father. When the pipes burst and water is flowing everywhere, it suggests the decay of the body.

  • It was important to show François losing his dignity; Rose said it is the ultimate expression of death.

  • Rose had operatic arias in mind for François, as his characters is bigger than life. But personally, he felt there was perhaps too much music in the film. Originally, when editing, he didn't have any music, to make sure the scenes worked on their own.

  • Rose feels that he's done with the family question, and that his next film will be more poetical and political, and bigger in the sense that it will be about more than a small circle of three characters.

  • The lighting was very specific to the mood in the film; before Christmas, the lighting is very warm and yellow; after Christmas, it becomes more white and more realistic, like the white light at the end of the tunnel.


Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Obaba is loosely based on Bernardo Axtaga's collection of short stories "Obabakoak", which won Spain's National Prize for Literature. Set in a fictional Basque town, Obaba follows Lourdes (Bárbara Lennie), a film student who has come to tape the town for a school project. She is soon drawn to some of the stories of the residents, all of which are told in flashbacks. These stories help Lourdes to understand the town, its people, and its secrets.

Montxo Armendáriz, who wrote the screenplay and also directed, has put together a fine film that blends the past and the present. Rather than use Lourdes simply as a device for prompting the villagers to tell their stories, she is an integral part of the movie. Lourdes is intrigued by the tales and the town's superstitions, and she soon begins to wonder if she has been caught up in and affected by it all. However, the film takes only a few of the stories from Axtaga's collection, and any political overtones don't seem to be present. The movie takes a more realistic tone and lacks any fantastical elements other than the mysterious blue-green lizards that seem to be indigenous to the area.


Review from the 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Gentille is the second feature film from Sophie Fillières, who both wrote and directed. Fontaine Leglou (played by Emmanuelle Devos) is an anesthesiologist in a private clinic. She has a scientist boyfriend (Bruno Todeschini) who is constantly trying to figure out how to get her to accept his proposal of marriage. But Fontaine is a bit adrift in her life, moving through a series of slightly absurd situations. She finds herself drawn to a patient in the clinic, a doctor (Lambert Wilson) who has to be induced into narcosis, and he may help her to define what she actually wants out of life.

This film is definitely odd, from the characters to the situations they encounter. Fontaine is a little bit scatterbrained and eccentric, challenging a man in the street who she thinks is following her then inviting him for coffee, or her reaction to an engagement ring hidden in her yogurt. The characters were a little too offbeat and odd, rather than quirky, for me to be completely engaged, and the interaction between Fontaine and her patient seemed rather peripheral. Emmanuelle Devos was kind of interesting to watch, and it was nice seeing Lambert Wilson in a dramatic role rather than in a Hollywood blockbuster, but overall the film never really clicked with me.


Review from the 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Frankie is the feature film debut of Fabienne Berthaud, who both directed and wrote the screenplay. The film follows Frankie, a fashion model played by Diane Kruger (Troy, National Treasure). The movie jumps back and forth between Frankie's past in the high-flying world of fashion, and the present, when Frankie is in a private clinic after having a breakdown. What seems like a glamorous job is revealed to be moments of action in between long stretches of boredom and loneliness, filled with shallow characters who treat the models more as clothes hangers than people. Only the modeling agency's driver who shuttles Frankie around from job to job seems to have any real empathy for her. Frankie's time in the clinic gives her the opportunity to reflect back on her life and what she wants for the future.

The film has an intimate documentary-like feel, aided in part by Berthaud's use of a single digital camera. There is relatively little dialogue or story beyond documenting moments in Frankie's life. This style might not be for everyone, but it lends a feeling of realism to the images on screen. Diane Kruger gives a very good performance, light years away from her roles in bigger budget Hollywood pictures. She conveys a sense of weariness with the world and the meaninglessness of her life simply through her actions and posture.

Director/writer Fabienne Berthaud was in attendance and did a Q&A: - The film was shot over a three-year period, in bits and pieces. At the start, Diane Kruger wasn't well known as an actress. The original producer did not want her in the film for that reason, but Berthaud persisted, even to the point of losing her financing. As a result, she bought a camera and decided to do the film on her own. Eventually Kruger started getting cast in Hollywood films, but she still came back between movies to shoot her scenes for Frankie.

  • The film was shot for about 3,000 Euros.

  • Berthaud had previously done a documentary on the fashion industry, and thought that it was an interesting subject to show what works in society and what doesn't.

  • Berthaud has a background as a novelist, and that the relatively short screenplay is a skeleton on which to hang the performances and the film.

  • There was a fair bit of working on the fly, as she had to work with a number of real people with mental issues at the clinic. This meant she had to use the camera as a pen, often going along with what unfolded on screen.

  • Whether working on films, photography, or writing, it is simply changing tools for her.

  • The film had just a crew of three; Berthaud did the camera and lighting, and she had an assistant and a sound engineer, and that was about it.

Beowulf & Grendel

Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Beowulf and Grendel is based on the Old English epic poem of the same name. It follows Beowulf, a Geat, who travels with his compatriots to Denmark and the realm of King Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgård), which is besieged by a great monster, Grendel (Ingvar Sigurdsson). Beowulf repeatedly tries to draw Grendel out to do battle, but soon finds from the witch Selma (Sarah Polley) that there may be more the story than meets the eye.

Historical purists will probably take issue with the portrayal of the story and with the dialogue. However, judged on its own merits, Beowulf and Grendel is a fine film. The film looks epic, thanks to the on-location filming in Iceland. Butler is suitably heroic, and Sigurdsson does well with a role that has essentially no dialogue, what with being a sub-human troll and all. Screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins makes use of slightly more contemporary language in the script, but without any ill effect. Director Sturla Gunnarsson has made some interesting casting choices, with Scots actors as the Geats (who are actually from Sweden), Nordic actors as the Danes, and Canadian Sarah Polley as Selma. The cast acquits themselves well, including Polley, whose Canadian accent serves to show her character's isolation from the rest of the community.

Director Sturla Gunnarsson, screenwriter Andrew Rai Berzins, and actor Tony Curran did a Q&A after the film:

  • They took a lot liberty with the story, especially as the poem has speeches that go on for pages. They decided to cut loose from it right away, and instead portray the story that would become the poem. As Gunnarsson put it, they tried to be true to "the bones of the story." Since the poem dates back to a Norse oral tradition, where poets would embellish stories with each telling, Gunnarsson felt they could do some of the same.

  • There were a number of problems during filming, as they started shooting several months later than planned. At the time, there were a lot of hurricanes in the Atlantic, which results in very high winds. They lost four base camps, and in a single day lost eight vehicles to the 150 km/h winds.

  • The ship used by the Geats is actually the Islendingur, a replica of a Viking ship from 870 AD, originally built to commemorate the anniversary of Leif Ericson's voyage to North America. The boat leaked, so four fire pumps were required to keep it afloat. However, for long shots of the boat in an iceberg-filled lagoon, the pumps had to be shut off and footage gathered quickly.

  • Grendel is supposed to have the strength of 30 men, but at the same time he is not a god, which it makes hard to portray him on screen. They didn't want to create a fantastical movie, so they decided early on not to use any CG for Grendel.

  • The horses used in the movie are Icelandic horses, which have three gaits unique to the breed, and uniquely suited to travel over the rocky terrain.

  • The palette for the costumes if taken from the landscape.

  • When casting Beowulf, they wanted someone unambiguously masculine, who could act, and who could bring some complexity to the role. Gunnarsson had seen some of Gerard Butler's films. While they weren't his cup of tea, he did find that Butler jumped off the screen.

  • Gunnarsson and Polley have known one another for years. She loves Iceland and had asked to be cast in whatever he decided to film there next. Gunnarsson feels that Polley brings something to the moral conscience of the story.

  • For Grendel, Gunnarsson had consulted with creature makeup director Nick Dudman, who has also worked on the Harry Potter films Dudman said that he could build prosthetics, but it would really all come from the actor.

  • Sigurdsson read the script and was drawn to Grendel without any prompting from Gunnarsson. While in a bookstore in Reykjavik, an American tourist noticed that script and recommended John Gardner's book Grendel, which tells the story from Grendel's perspective.

  • They weren't originally allowed to cast Skarsgård as he is not from the UK, Iceland, or Canada. On appeal to the UK authorities, they eventually agreed that it would be all right for a Norseman to play another Norseman.

  • They wanted the Geats to look like a gang of bikers, not some sort of museum piece.

  • On the use of humour in the script, Berzins said that there is humour in everything, and that he is frustrated by historical movies with no humour.

  • Berzins said about the use of the f-word in the movie that the f-word is actually quite old, but he does realize that some people are brought forward in time when they hear it. Skarsgård was originally not a fan of its use, but by the end he was using it liberally.

Spoilers below:

  • They tried to stay close to the story, but in the original, none of the characters have much in the way of motivation; Grendel just shows up and starts killing people. They felt that either he's simply evil, or he has a reason, which opens up all sorts of possibilities.

  • They felt that this is a good time in history to explore the hero-myth. Beowulf is essentially a story about a warrior that goes overseas to fight a righteous quest but soon finds himself embroiled in a tribal war.

  • Tony Curran said that his favourite scene is the one where the young Grendel is holding his father's severed head. Berzins' favourite is the one where Tony's character destroys the skull, he looks up, and you can see doom descend on him. Gunnarsson's favourite is Skarsgård's disintegration at the end.

The Mistress of Spices

Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Mistress of Spices is based on the novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, and is the directorial debut for Paul Mayeda Berges. Berges has worked previously with his wife, Gurinder Chadha, on a number of films including Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. Chadha co-wrote the screenplay here with her husband.

The movie follows Tilo, played by Aishwarya Rai, who is a member of an old, mystical cult that worships spice in all its forms. She is sent to Oakland to open a shop and help people using the mysterious powers of the spices. Tilo, who also has the power to see visions of the future, soon ends up helping a whole coterie of characters: a man (Anupam Kher) who is distressed over his granddaughter (Padma Lakshmi), a woman who has grown up in America and adopted western ways, much to his dismay; Jagjit (Sonny Gill Dulay), a teenager who is having trouble with the kids at school; Haroun (Nitin Chandra Ganatra), a cab driver that has a cloudy future; Kwesi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a man trying to win the heart of a woman.

But to be successful, Tilo must follow three rules: one, she must never leave the store; two, she must never touch the skin of another person; three, she can never use the spices for her own gain. One day a man (Dylan McDermott) falls off his motorcycle outside her store and they are both instantly drawn to one another, challenging Tilo's devotion to her cause and threatening her control over the spices.

This is a nice, light film, reminiscent in many ways of Chocolat, with Aishwarya Rai in the Juliette Binoche role. Rai is luminous on screen, and the chemistry between her and Dylan McDermott is good. I didn't think the voice-over narration of Rai's character's inner thoughts was entirely successful, although I can't see how else you could really do it; funny enough, the voice-overs reminded me of another spice-related movie, David Lynch's Dune. The movie explores a bit of the mixing between east and west and the conflict between old and new, but not quite as successfully as some of Berges' and Chadha's other films, but that is probably due more to the limitations of creating an adaptation.

Jazireh ahani

Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Iron Island is the second feature film from Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who also wrote the screenplay. Iron Island refers to an old, abandoned oil tanker floating in the Persian Gulf, populated with all sorts of people and presided over by Captain Nemat (Ali Nasirian). The ship is a miniature city, with its own school and barter economy, and Nemat is constantly running about, seeing to the needs of the people under his protection, while at the same time overseeing the gradual disassembly of the ship for scrap metal.

The ship contains a whole coterie of characters, including the young man Nemat adopted who is in love with a girl betrothed to another man; the old man who is constantly looking out into the distance for who-knows-what; the young boy who is trying to rescue fish from the hold and return them to the ocean; the teacher who insists the boat is slowly sinking. Under threat from the authorities to abandon the ship, Nemat must decide what to do to keep his little city together.

The film was enjoyable, and it was fascinating to watch the society that Nemat had built up on his own little floating island. The characters were absorbing to watch, especially Nemat, who seemed to be partially motivated out of love for his charges, and partly because he wouldn't know what to do with himself if he wasn't leading the people.

Director Mohammad Rasoulof attended the screening and did a Q&A: - The film is about the isolation and loneliness of a society, but one that still has a beautiful life.

  • The story is purely fictional.

  • Nemat disconnects the people from the outside world from the moment they arrive, resulting in the people willing to follow or do whatever the captain wants. When a society is completely cut off from the outside, whatever is left rules you.

  • The film has not yet screened in Iran; they are currently waiting permission that has been promised to them.

  • Every film, poetic or not, goes back to the filmmaker and what they want to say; and this film is what Rasoulof wants to say.

  • Any artistic work has many different layers, with the plot/story being the one on top. The same thing happens in different places, not just one society. The film is not a metaphor for Iran in particular.

  • The script was originally written as a theatre piece 10 years ago. Rasoulof rewrote it two years ago, and put the ship as a character in it.

  • The cast and crew of about 350 had to commute 10 km a day to the ship.

  • The people in the area where filming took place are very religious and were uncomfortable with the idea of being in a film, so Rasoulof had to go to an area about 60 km away, where many of the people had emigrated from elsewhere, for his cast.

  • Ali Nasirian, who plays Captain Nemat, is a renowned actor in Iran, and did a lot for the film.

  • Each one of the characters in the film is based on someone Rasoulof knows. The little fish boy is based on his own childhood and that of his brother. The man watching the horizon is someone Rasoulof remembers from growing up. The teacher is someone he knows well.

  • The idea for the ship just came to Rasoulof, and he wasn't sure how. He just said there are times one is inspired by such ideas.

  • There is one scene when the older boys are watching satellite TV. The TV was originally supposed to be playing Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but they couldn't get the copyright to do so.

  • On the issue of censorship, Rasoulof said he basically made the movie he wanted to, and let the censors excise what they wanted.

Spiele Leben

Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed and written by Antonin Svoboda, You Bet Your Life stars Georg Friedrich as Kurt, a compulsive gambler who wants to do only that; he shirks all manner of responsibility, with his girlfriend, with the various jobs he drifts through, and with his father. One night he has a chance meeting with an older woman in a bar, and they bond over a video slot machine. They soon find themselves in a casino, where she proposes using one of her earrings that are a pair of dice to determine what numbers they should bet on at the roulette table.

This eventually leads Kurt to decide to base his entire life on a roll of the die. He soon turns away from his girlfriend and meets Tanja (Birgit Minichmayr), a sexy but rough drug addict, whom Kurt brings into his little game. Any successes in the casino are soon balanced by failures in the rest of his life which threaten to bring everything to a crashing halt.

You Bet Your Life is an interesting film, and Friedrich and Minichmayr have a fiery on-screen relationship. The only problem I had with the movie, and this may be due more to my own inattention, was with the latter half of the film, which is actually structured as six separate story lines, where Kurt mulls over different choices he could make when he and Tanja pull up to the gas station. Because the first choice or two take up so much screen time, it didn't seem readily apparent that each time the car pulls up to the gas station, a different choice is being shown. Had I realized that sooner, I think I would've appreciated the film more while I was watching it. In retrospect, though, the film gives an intriguing take on chance and fate and making choices in life.

Director Antonin Svoboda attended the screening and did a Q&A afterwards: - Svoboda has one friend who is a gambler, who he used as the object of the story (although he doesn't use dice like Kurt does).

  • Svoboda had followed the career of Georg Friedrich for several years, and wrote the story especially for him, so he could see Friedrich in a lead role rather than the many side roles he has played.

  • The main inspiration for the film was Dostoyevsky's The Gambler, and to a lesser extent, The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. Svoboda was always surprised by the end of The Gambler and what happens to the main character. For The Dice Man, Svoboda said that being set in the U.S. it should stay there, and that someone should make a movie based on that some day.

  • Minichmayr is actually a big star in theatre, while Friedrich works mainly in the cinema, and the two had not worked together previously. Minichmayr was especially interested to take on the role of Tanja, as she had never played such a rotten girl character before.

  • Svoboda didn't want to focus too much on reality, but wanted to concentrate more on possibility. He left the final possibility up to the audience to decide, as that was more truthful to the story he wanted to tell, as well as more provoking.

  • Svoboda was interested in having Kurt be a bad guy, or less positive, making the audience wonder if he has any chance to come out of the situation he is in. He wanted to see if such an anti-hero could reach the audience.

Souvenir of Canada

Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Souvenir of Canada is based on the books of the same name by Douglas Coupland (Generation X), who also narrates the film. The film is a nostalgic look at Canadian pop culture and identity, which frames a look back at Coupland's childhood and his relationship with his family. The movie also follows Coupland's efforts to build an art installation called "Canada House" in a soon-to-be-demolished home. Using a variety of techniques, from animation to clips from old films and shows to interviews with Coupland and his family, Souvenir of Canada provides a humorous, quintessentially Canadian look back at our past and our cultural identity.

I think that any Canadian who grew up around the late 60's or into the 70's would have an appreciation and fondness for this film. Just seeing some of the artifacts that Coupland digs up evokes a strong sense of childhood and the past, from road trips down the Trans Canada to stubbies to Terry Fox's sock to Windsor salt boxes, stuff that as Coupland puts it, wouldn't be recognizable to anyone except someone who grew up in Canada.

Director Robin Neinstein stayed for a Q&A after the screening: - The Canada House installation took about two weeks to make, and was only up for five days.

  • Neinstein first read Souvenir of Canada in Indigo, in one go at the store. He eventually found his way to Coupland and flew out to Vancouver to meet him. Coupland at the time was just thinking about the Canada House project, building some of the furniture for it over the past year, and they both decided it would make a good foundation for the movie.

  • Someone commented on how Coupland's narration evoked memories of the Hinterland Who's Who spots we all grew up with. Neinstein said that wasn't necessarily intentional, but that they did try to make everything feel like a memory.

  • Non-Canadians seem to enjoy the film. In one of the early screenings, Neinstein said two British people in the audience immediately wanted to watch the film again (Neinstein likened it to an interesting anthropological look at aliens).

  • Coupland didn't want to have any Canadian celebrities in the film; he wanted to concentrate on objects that we have all shared. The one exception was Terry Fox.

  • Music was done by A.C. Newman from the Vancouver group The New Pornographers. They wanted a very west coast Canadian sound. Newman had wanted to work with images rather than write lyrics; Neinstein cut the music into the film as they went.

  • When asked what it was like to work with Coupland, Neinstein said that Coupland's brain is always racing, looking from multiple perspectives (past, present, future), and that he is endlessly creative.

  • Coupland's parents have not yet seen the film, but Neinstein imagined they would when they bring the film to the Vancouver International Film Festival.


Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Lucid is the second feature film from Sean Garrity (Inertia) and had its world premiere here at the festival. Lucid is about a psychotherapist named Joel, played by Jonas Chernick, who also wrote the screenplay with Garrity. Joel is leading group therapy sessions with Victor (Callum Keith Rennie), Chandra (Michelle Nolden), and Sophie (Lindy Booth). Each seems to be suffering in their own way with post-traumatic stress disorder, Victor being aggressive, Chandra being withdrawn, and Sophie turning to prescription drugs. Joel himself is under his own stress of his wife leaving him, manifesting itself in insomnia, not being able to talk with his daughter (Brianna Williams) and even hearing profanity in a children's cartoon. It is not long before Jonas' problems and those of his patients begin to affect each other.

It is difficult to say too much about the movie without giving anything away, but I thought that Chernick did an excellent job as Joel, making his struggle to understand his reality interesting. I also thought that Lindy Booth did a nice turn in the role of Sophie. While the story may not necessarily be anything new, Chernick's and Garrity's screenplay does give an intriguing take on it, and kept me hooked until the end.

Lucid also screened with the good but disturbing short film Room 710, from Ann Marie Fleming, who is also at the festival this year with the movie The French Guy.

Director Sean Garrity, and actors Jonas Chernick, Michelle Nolden, and Brianna Williams stayed for a Q&A after the film. Note that there are some spoilers in these comments: - The budget for the film was $2 million.

  • Chernick said he was inspired by a lot of other movies in the genre, and that the movie got darker once Garrity came on board.

  • It only took Garrity about 23 days to shoot the film. He made an interesting comparison to his last film Inertia, which took about the same time to film but was made for a quarter of the budget.

  • The first draft of the screenplay was written about seven years ago; they joked that like most Canadian films, the bulk of the time in making the film was taken up by trying to obtain financing.

  • The movie was shot on 35mm film.

  • Callum Keith Rennie was the first choice for the role of Victor, and he joined after reading the script.

  • The score was done by Richard Moody, describe by Garrity as a "boy genius Winnipeg viola player" who he has collaborated with before. Garrity said he likes working with non-keyboard players. They received some additional funding at the end of the production, which allowed them to hire some members of the Winnipeg Symphony to perform on the soundtrack.

  • They tried to inject a more humorous tone into the movie, which they felt makes it harder to see the end coming.

  • The Snugglebugs animation in the movie was done by Frantic Films, a Winnipeg FX house.

  • Originally, the character of Joel was a patient, not the doctor, but Garrity and Chernick found that test audiences were too willing to accept Joel's opinions about what was happening. By switching him to be the therapist, people can then share his character's skepticism.

  • Brianna Williams has been acting since she was 8 or so, and turns 10 in May.

  • Cinematographer Michael Marshall has worked with Garrity before on Inertia, and on a number of other films, including some with Guy Maddin.

  • Garrity wanted the colour to drain out of the film as it progressed, being more orange in the beginning, but blue/black/white by the end. They didn't use gels to get the effect; they shot outdoors using film balanced for indoor light and used blue lights.

  • The film is scheduled for general release in March 2006, but they will be taking the film to a number of other Canadian festivals before then.


Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

In Opa!, Matthew Modine plays Eric, an American archaeologist who uses all sorts of technology like satellites and radar to determine the best place to dig for artifacts. He comes to a small Greek island to meet with a colleague, played by Richard Griffiths, and to further his dead father's quest for the cup of St. John. Not long after arriving, Eric falls for the charms of single mother Katerina (Agni Scott) who owns a local restaurant. Soon, however, Eric's professional and personal lives are put into conflict and he must choose which one he cares about more.

Directed by Udayan Prasad (My Son the Fanatic), Opa! is like a postcard for the Greek isles. The amazing scenery is like a character itself in the movie and provides a backdrop for the story. Modine is good as Eric and his personality fits the character well. Agni Scott provides a spark and makes it easy to see how Eric could fall for her. The supporting cast is good as well, from Richard Griffiths to Alki David as Katerina's friend and even the three old women in the film that act from time to time as a "Greek" chorus.

Overall the film is entertaining, although a friend and I debated whether one situation at the end of the film would be better served by being explicitly shown rather than implied and off-screen. As well, Eric's relationship to his father is discussed enough in the film to make it seem significant, but that storyline is never quite pursued.


Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Saints-Martyrs-des-Damnés is the feature film directorial debut for Robin Aubert, who also wrote the screenplay. The film follows tabloid reporter Flavien Juste (played by François Chénier), who goes to a small Quebec town with the paper's photographer and his friend, Armand (Patrice Robitaille). Flavien and Armand are there to investigate the mysterious disappearances of some of the villagers over the years. Not long after arriving, Armand disappears himself, setting in motion a whole series of events as Flavien tries to find his friend.

The town is populated with all sorts of characters, from the mayor who runs the town with an iron grip, backed up by his two greaser thugs right out of the 50's; to the mechanic who wears a mask to hide his face; to the two creepy sisters that run the town hotel; to the woman who plays steel guitar to the cows in the fields; and the lingerie-clad waitress in the restaurant who's Downs-syndrome affected son may be one of the few Flavien can turn to.

The movie is very reminiscent of work by David Lynch, a la Twin Peaks, but Saints-Martyrs-des-Damnés is significantly clearer in its story and themes. At the heart of the film is the theme of identity, but to say too much more would give away the plot. The film has a nice look, being shot in hi-def. Aubert's shots make much of the small town look threatening and suitably creepy, even in broad daylight. There's probably a few too many startling cuts at the beginning of the film, but thankfully, they give way too a more restrained style for the remainder. I enjoyed the movie, especially the character of Flavien, as he struggles in his desperate search to penetrate the silence that pervades the tight-knit community.

Everything Is Illuminated

Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this movie at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated is the directorial debut of actor Liev Schreiber. Schreiber also wrote the screenplay. In the movie, Jonathan (Elijah Wood) obsessively collects items from his family, from toothbrushes to retainers to scraps of paper which he then seals in ziploc bags and pins to a wall in his house to record his family history. But the space for his grandfather is conspicuously bare. All Jonathan really has of him is a piece of jewelry and an old photo of him with a woman who hid him from the Nazis during the Second World War. Jonathan decides to undertake a quest to Ukraine to find the woman, thank her, and learn more about his grandfather.

His quest is aided there by a couple of characters who run a tourist company for Jewish people, including a young man obsessed with western culture (Eugene Hutz), his grandfather (Boris Leskin), who thinks he is blind and who may have memories and demons of his own from the war, and his grandfather's temperamental seeing eye dog.

The screenplay effectively combines both humour and drama as the three characters travel through the countryside looking for Jonathan's grandfather's town, driving deeper and deeper into the memories of the past. The best performance probably comes from Eugene Hutz, playing Alex Jr., who starts the movie as a tracksuit-wearing, break dancing slacker just out to have fun but evolves into something more as not only Jonathan, but all the characters gain their own illumination.

Liev Schreiber, Elijah Wood, and Eugene Hutz attended the screening and did a very humorous Q&A after the film:

  • Schreiber was very close to his grandfather, who was a Ukranian immigrant, and who died in 1993. This caused him to start to write to get his memories down on paper. Meanwhile, he was asked to do a reading of Foer's short story, The Very Rigid Search, which was an excerpt from the still unpublished novel. Schreiber was blown away by the quality of the writing, saying that Foer had done in 15 pages what Schreiber tried to do in 107. Schreiber approached Foer and they talked about their grandfathers, culture, movies, and the nature of short-term memory in America; in the end, Foer agreed to let Schreiber adapt the book.

  • Schreiber's own project was intended to be a road movie, but the book has parallel narrative that is an imagined chronological history of the town of Trochenbrod that spans 500 years; given his budget and limitations as a filmmaker, he said he'd leave that to Milos Forman and take the road trip instead. This imagined chronology was what moved him to make the movie in the first place, the idea that "a past lovingly imagined was as valuable as a past accurately recalled".

  • Schreiber said the movie was a series of happy accidents. After searching unsuccessfully in Ukraine for an actor, he was walking through the Lower East Side in New York, when he saw a poster of a woman centaur, topless from the waist up, with an insane cossack sitting astride her. Under the poster said the name Gogol Bordello Ukranian Punk Gypsy Band.

Eugene Hutz then took over the story. He had never pursued acting as music was his first passion. One day, a friend gave him the book, and he thought it was written in a manner similar to how he writes music; screw sentences/syntax, language is my own.

Later, they got a call from a production company, looking for eastern European music that was medieval but modern. Hutz met with Schreiber, and he soon found the movie was based on the book he just happened to be reading. Not long after that came up, Schreiber asked Hutz what he thought about Alex and whether he could do the character by any chance.

  • Foer and Schreiber talked about the film in the fall of 2001, shortly after the events of September 11. Both were in Europe at the time and they talked about the derogatory comments they were hearing about Americans, which led Schreiber to want to try to find an articulate American who would defy the stereotype that Europeans have of Americans. Someone who was awkward, vulnerable, flawed, innocent, and looking for history beyond the borders of his own country. Schreiber started thinking about who that was, and Elijah came up.

One of Schreiber's inspirations as a filmmaker is Emir Kusturica (I think that's who he said, who also directed a segment in another festival movie, All the Invisible Children) who said "you don't look for the actors, you look for the people." Schreiber said there is something about who Elijah is that he has a generosity of spirit and a sincere goodness as a human being, that came across on film. Schreiber said that the eyes are important when trying to articulate a character who is an observer, and that if "eyes are the doors to the soul, Elijah's are garage doors."

  • Elijah Wood had fun with a question about the similarities between his character Kevin in Sin City and Jonathan in this movie as both are sort of a blank slate on which emotions are projected. Wood replied that Jonathan may seem still and seemingly emotionless, but it is all about his observations, about his experiences with other characters and the environment he was in.

  • On the differences between directing and writing: Schreiber said he likes writing a lot more and jokingly described directing as "hell". After his grandfather died, Schreiber started to think about how to preserve some sense of history and himself; is he content driven or not, or just good at interpreting other people's work? He said he loved the exercise of figuring out what is emotional to you, important to you.

Winter Passing

Review from 2005 TIFF
Winter Passing is a world premier at the festival and the first feature film from playwright and author Adam Rapp, who wrote the screenplay and directed. The film follows Reese, a young actress played by Zooey Deschanel, who returns home from New York when a book publisher asks her to find the correspondence between her parents, both famous authors. Reese is drifting through life, so detached that she takes to slamming drawers on her hand just to feel something.

She travels to her family home in Michigan, only to find that her ailing and eccentric father (Ed Harris) has taken in one of his former grad students (Amelia Warner) and a former Christian rocker (Will Ferrell), after the death of his wife and Reese's mother. Reese's interactions with her father and the pseudo-family that has collected around him prompt her to expose her feelings about her childhood and relationship with her parents, and to come to terms with her own life.

I thought this was an excellent film, especially considering this was Rapp's directorial debut. Zooey Deschanel gives a wonderful, emotional performance as Reese, and Will Ferrell does a restrained, thoughtful turn as the rocker/handyman Corbit. Rapp's story and characters were interesting, and the occasional light comic moments provided a nice counterpoint to the dramatic, emotional story at the heart of the film. I thought this was a film well worth watching.

Writer/director Adam Rapp was present for a Q&A session after the film:

  • The film came to being when Rapp was up for a grant through the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which had produced a couple of his plays. He came up with a synopsis for a four-character play set in the garage, and at the end, the garage door would open to reveal the furniture in the back yard. However, he didn't get the grant.

At the time, he had signed with a west coast agent who suggested he write a screenplay. This prompted Rapp to open the story up, starting with Reese's departure from New York. Once he had finished it, Rapp said he couldn't imagine anyone but him screwing it up.

  • On the subject of casting, Rapp said he first wrote to Ed Harris, who called him back three days later saying he wanted to do the movie. Having Harris on board allowed Rapp to attract other actors to at least read the script.

At the time, Rapp shared the same agency with Will Ferrell. Rapp's agent suggested Ferrell for the film, but Rapp was hesitant because Ferrell was so big and was becoming very famous, and the character of Corbit is such a loner, kind of lost in the world, and trying to disappear, in many of the same ways as Ed Harris' character. But when Rapp met Ferrell, Ferrell was very decisive about how he wanted to do a small dramatic role, and he seemed to trust both the idea of it and Rapp, and they had a good rapport. Rapp added that Ferrell was one of the sweetest people he's ever met.

For Zooey Deschanel, Rapp had met with about 45 actresses, but felt that she had the kind of dynamics he was looking for, that she had an incredible intelligence, was very good with language, and at the same time had an incredible emotional life. Rapp also loved her work in David Gordon Green's film, All the Real Girls.

Rapp said that without the participation of Harris and Ferrell, they wouldn't have gotten the financing to make the film.

  • Terry Stacey was the cinematographer, and he also did The Door in the Floor and In Her Shoes (which is also showing here at the festival). He was Rapp's mentor a lot early in the process when Rapp didn't know that much about film or its technical execution.

They sat together for about two months, talking about what films they liked and how they wanted it to look and move. Both are huge fans of 70's films like those by Bob Rafelson and Hal Ashby, and they talked about that, and how the camera would move, how it would become stiller as Reese became more still in her life.

Rapp said that Stacey works with a lot of first-time directors, so he felt really lucky, and that Stacey is one of the funniest people he's ever worked with, and the he wears a funny hat a lot.

  • When asked if he considers the music in the film the landscape of Resee's psychology, Rapp said very much so, that the musical selections were very important (Rapp is also a musician). He felt the music carries the mood of the picture and Resee's inner life. Both Rapp and Meg Reticker, the editor, spent a lot of time listening to and experimenting with music. They worked to find a lot of female voices, like Cat Power and Dawn Landes, women around the same age as Reese, singing about things similar to what the character was going through in the movie.

  • Asked about the scene where Harris and Ferrell are playing golf in a room in the house, Rapp said that he needed some way for Harris' character to destroy the room and turn it into something else, because the room was where he and his wife slept, and made love, and had their life. Rapp thought golf would be a theatrical sounding thing (the sound of the balls and showing the walls crumbling). It also establishes that Harris' character has an agoraphobic bent; he puts the furniture on the lawn and the house is turning into other things through the grief that is going on.

Workingman's Death

Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Workingman's Death, by Michael Glawogger, is a documentary in the basest sense of the word, in that it simply presents five stories of workers around the world working in dangerous, back-breaking physical labour, without any narration or obvious context other than what is shown.

The film shows miners in the Ukraine working an abandoned coal mine in unbelievably claustrophobic conditions. It then moves to sulphur miners in Indonesia, collecting sulphur from active volcanic vents. Next is an open-air slaughterhouse in Nigeria that processes goats and cattle. Then come shipbreakers in Pakistan who cut apart old ships for scrap. And finally steel workers in China are shown before the film ends in a former foundry, now park, in Germany.

The film is adept at showing the extremely difficult and threatening conditions people have to work in, usually for little money or simply to survive. The scenes in Nigeria were especially interesting to watch, showing the interplay between all the people in the market, each with their own specific job; the images are also quite graphic.

However, the Nigerian segment does seem out of step with the rest of the movie in that it didn't seem to be especially dangerous (as per the title of the film), but rather just physically demanding. Part of the reason for this is described in the Q&A below.

Glawogger wanted to close the film at the abandoned foundry in Germany to show the future and where things were going, but I didn't necessarily feel the film lead to that. If anything, what I got was that even in the 21st century, with all the technology and progress that has been made, physical labour and heavy industry is still a big part of work around the world and that is not going to go away anytime soon, especially with the way the world economy works today.

Still, the images he shows on screen are pretty powerful and do communicate a real sense of the work, people, environment, and the sheer effort in each locale.

Michael Glawogger attended the screening and was present for a Q&A after the film: - When asked while the segment in China was so short compared to the other segments in the film, Glawogger replied that it was the last segment shot, and he decided to make it short to transition to the epilogue in Germany. He felt he had shown enough of the sensual part of work in the other parts. In China he found a strong belief that the future is bright, akin to Europe after World War II, and that led into the German segment which shows where the future is ending.

  • Someone asked how Glawogger managed to get John Zorn to score the film; Glawogger replied that he simply asked.

  • Glawogger was asked how he managed to gain access to his subjects; he said it was patience, i.e. the normal documentary process, where you spend time with people, make friends, and they soon open up. He spent time every day with his subjects, which showed them he was serious about his work, which caused them to take him seriously. He spent about three weeks to a month in each location, with the exception of China, where the government takes a dim view of foreigners spending that much time in their foundries talking to their workers (which I guess may also account for the shorter length of that segment of the film).

  • When asked what he learned, Glawogger said he was surprised by the diversity of the situations. For example, at first glance, the Nigerian open-air slaughterhouse looks horrible, like an inferno, but it's not really like that, and in fact the people there are the happiest of anyone shown in the movie.

  • There is no overall message about the meaning of life or anything like that in the film, but rather little things in each place.

  • It was a long process to choose the industries he wanted to show. He started with old worker heroes from the Soviet Union, which led him to the coal miners in the Ukraine. He also knew that he wanted to end in the park in Germany. He originally went to Nigeria to examine the oil workers, but instead became fascinated by the slaughterhouse instead (which may account for the slightly out-of-place feel to this segment relative to the other sections).

  • Production costs were quite high for this documentary, at least by European standards; it cost about $2 million to make.

À travers la forêt

Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Jean Paul Civeyrac, A travers la foret is a story about Armelle (Camille Berthomier), a young woman coping with the death of her boyfriend in a motorcycle accident. Armelle has waking dreams where she sees her lost lover still in her life. One of her two sisters convinces her to see a medium, where she runs into a man that looks eerily like her lost boyfriend.

The film is quite quiet and very visual, and is divided into separate scenes, each shot in one continuous take with a single camera. I wouldn't say this film was quite to my taste, but visually, the film is very interesting, and I could appreciate the director's artistry. Berthomier gave a good and very natural performance, especially considering this was her first film.

Notes from the Q&A; apologies for any mis-translation, as an interpreter wasn't available for the first part of the session: - The film has just been added to the New York Film Festival.

  • Civeyrac was originally working on another film, but ran out of money. He met Camille Berthomier and very quickly came up with the script for this film, especially as he had been carrying the story inside him for a long time. Meeting Berthomier made it easy to write.

  • Civeyrac wanted to film Berthomier, showing her singing and dancing; she wasn't an actress at the time they met, but he found it a good experience to work with someone fresh and graceful.

  • I asked why he decided to shoot each scene in one take with a single camera; Civeyrac said that this fit the reality and mental state of the story, and that the single take creates a tranquil tone. The movie is also about her past existing in the present, and this style helps to mix the two in her reality.

  • Someone asked about whether the film intentionally seemed to allude to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Civeyrac said that it wasn't intentional, especially since he more directly addressed it in his last film, Tristesse beau visage, but that film did continue to inform his thinking. In fact, another story from the 16th century gave him more ideas for this film.

  • The songs sung by Armelle were written by Berthomier herself.

  • Picking the music for the film was a long process; he loaded a lot of music on his computer and played around with what worked and what didn't. The editing process took 6 weeks, which is long considering there are really only 10 shots, all of which are continuous.

  • Civeyrac was happiest about the last piece of music in the film, The Unanswered Question, by Charles Ives. It sounds quite modern, but was in fact written in 1906.

  • The film was shot on high-definition video and optically transferred to 35mm film.

  • Civeyrac had very little money to shoot the film, so he used whatever (free) locations he could find. Those locations dictated the blocking for the shots. Detailerehearsalsls were done off-site, and then they went on-location to shoot, with a 15:1 take ratio, about a day per section of the film.

  • The choice of the continuous shots was made to find a fluidity in movement, like a spiral, which ultimately goes to the forest at the end of the movie.

  • Civeyrac didn't want it to be obvious that each scene is a continuous shot, as he didn't want it to be seen as a performance or contrived, but rather more simple and alive. The shots were planned out in advance, with lots of marks on the ground; there was no improvisation despite the actors looking so loose and comfortable. This is Civeyrac's normal style.

  • His shots are not preconceived during the writing process; rather, he waits until he has his locations and actors.

We Feed the World

Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

We Feed the World, by filmmaker Erwin Wagenhofer, had its world premiere at the festival. The film, two years in the making, takes a look at the production of food and the effects on it from globalization and commercialization.

The film is divided up into sections, each of which focuses on a different part of the industry. It jumps from fishermen in Brittany, to massive greenhouse operations in Spain, to the use of hybrid seeds in eastern Europe, to the production of soya in Brazil, to chicken production in Europe, and finally to Switzerland, the home of Nestle, the biggest food corporation in the world. Each section talks about the challenges facing people and the impact felt around the world. There is no narration; the people interviewed in the film simply tell their stories and give their opinions.

There is the fisherman in Brittany, talking about the effect of European Union regulations on his livelihood. There is the senior manager with agriculture giant Pioneer, who gives his own personal views at odds with the company line. And then there is the CEO of Nestle, who matter-of-factly states his own opinions about food which may seem shocking to many. Interspersed are interviews with a food expert from the UN who provides insight into how the things shown in the film are affecting, often adversely, people around the world.

The movie is not overly didactic, but it does cause you to think about how the food you eat is produced and how so many people in the world can be starving when so much food is produced and wasted in the industrialized world.

Erwin Wagenhofer attended the screening and did a Q&A after the movie: - When asked about how or what we should even eat, Wagenhofer said you should think about where your food comes from and how it is produced, and buy locally-produced food.

  • Asked how he managed to secure the interviews, especially with people who might not normally participate in such a documentary, Wagenhofer said the first time he approaches someone, he never brings a camera. In fact, he doesn't for the first 4 or 5 times, by which time people see he is not out to make fun of them, and they eventually agree to be filmed.

  • When asked about the comments the head of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, makes, Wagenhofer said that he believes those are Brabeck's actual feelings about the subject, and that he probably would not be upset about the film in any way.

  • Why food? Wagenhofer said that food is something close to everyone, that everyone has to eat every day.

  • On his next project, Wagenhofer couldn't say what it is, other than it is a step forward from this film.

  • The film was finished only one month ago.

  • When asked what we should take from this film, Wagenhofer said the film is called "We Feed the World", not "They Feed the World," meaning that we are all part of the system, and that it is up to "us" to change it, as "they" have no desire to.

Banlieue 13

Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Banlieue 13 is set in Paris of 2010, where the poor and the undesirable have been forced into ghettos walled off from the rest of the city and controlled by criminal gangs. One of these gangs, led by crime boss Taha (played by Bibi Naceri, who co-wrote the screenplay with Luc Besson), hijacks a truck and gains possession of a neutron bomb that is accidentally triggered to go off in less than 24 hours. Undercover cop Damien (played by Cyril Raffaelli) is forced to team up with ghetto rebel Leito (David Belle) to retrieve the device. Leito, meanwhile, has his own agenda with Taha, who is holding Leito's sister hostage as punishment for Leito destroying Taha's drugs.

Produced by Luc Besson, the film is the directorial debut of Pierre Morel, who has acted as cinematographer on a number of Besson-produced/written films, including The Transporter and Unleashed (aka Danny the Dog). Cyril Raffaelli (who attended the screening) is a long-time associate of Besson, mainly working stunts or as a body double in a number of movies such as Double Team and Ronin before moving on to acting in films such as Kiss of the Dragon (where he can be seen fighting Jet Li in the climax) and Crimson Rivers 2.

David Belle is an interesting choice in that he is the founder of Le Parkour, a movement where people try to move from point A to point B as fast as possible, in the most fluid manner as possible, without stopping, and always moving forward, never backward. It is big in Europe, and has even made an appearance on this side of the Atlantic in an episode of CSI: NY. The movement originated out of work his father did, but parkour is adapted to an urban environment.

This film is amazing. If you've seen the street chase scene in Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior and thought that it was a refreshing change from all the wire work present in most action films today, that pales in comparison to the chase scenes in Banlieue 13. Watching David Belle escape from an apartment building while chased by thugs is like watching poetry in motion. The movements are so graceful and fluid, and the things he does are amazing, because it is very evident that he's performing the stunts himself and that there's no safety equipment involved. He scales the sides of buildings 20 stories up, he jumps from rooftop to rooftop, he even slips past thugs in a narrow hallway by bouncing up the walls. And not to be outdone, Raffaelli has some great martial arts scenes, especially a long sequence in a backroom casino.

Plot-wise, the movie isn't necessarily anything new, with the obvious parallel being John Carpenter's Escape from New York. But the action in the movie is so amazing it is well worth seeing.

Notes from the Q&A with Cyril Raffaelli: - The movie was a quick shoot, taking only about three months, and the film was in theatres two months after that.

  • Every action scene in the movie is real; there is absolutely no wire work of any kind. It is also evident in the movie that there are also no mattresses or nets in any of the shots.

  • Raffaelli and Belle have talked amongst themselves about a sequel and would love to do one, but there's no serious talk of anything right now.

  • Besson was originally going to make one movie with Raffaelli and a different one with Belle, but then decided to put both of them together.

  • Raffaelli start martial arts when he was very young, and then his mother put him into circus school. He ended up combining the two, which led him to become a stuntman. He's now been in almost 70 films, 10 of them with Europa, Luc Besson's company.

  • He's been a body double for Jean-Claude Van Damne in Double Team.

  • Raffaelli's work in Kiss of the Dragon led to the role in Banlieue 13.

  • He is very into martial arts and action films of all kinds from all over, but when he is making or choreographing a film, he likes to read the entire script to get a sense of the character, and tries to be realistic in the stunts and the combat, unlike a lot of US films.

  • Raffaelli tried to show the differences between Leito and Damien in their fighting styles; Leito, being from the street, has a rougher style, more boxing-like, while Damien, being from the more civilized part of Paris, has a cleaner, more calculated style.

  • Since Belle had no background in acrobatics or martial arts, Raffaelli took him to Thailand and trained him over a two-year period.

  • Raffaelli doesn't do parkour himself in the pure sense, but has used elements of it in a chase scene he choreographed for Crimson Rivers 2, plus as a stunt professional he feels he is supposed to be able to do anything (he's certified in scuba diving, skydiving, horseback riding, driving cars/trucks/motorcycles).

  • He has trained in multiple martial arts, including karate, Tae Kwon Do, Brazilian ju-jitsu, and combat-style kung-fu (of which he was the French champion in 1997). He had to give up the kung-fu competitively because it was interfering with his film work.


Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

L'Annulaire is the second feature film from director Diane Bertrand, who also wrote the screenplay for this adaptation of Yoko Ogawa's novel.

The film follows Iris (Olga Kurylenko), who moves to a port town after cutting off the tip of her ring finger in an industrial accident. She quickly finds lodging in a hotel down by the harbour, but is forced to share a room with a sailor who works at night and sleeps while she is out in the day. While searching for work, by chance she comes across an old girls' school that now houses a man (Marc Barbe) who preserves and stores personal artifacts that people bring to him.

Taking a job as the man's office assistant, she soon becomes involved in a sort of relationship with him, while at the same time being intrigued by the sailor (Stipe Erceg), whom she only knows through the things left in their shared room.

The movie, filmed in Hamburg and just outside Paris, is beautifully shot. Bertrand favours many tight shots of the characters, giving a more intimate feel to many of the moments in the film. Noah Cowan, the co-director of the festival, described the film as combining the contemplative feel of Asian cinema with the sexual energy of European cinema. Thus, the film is very spare in its dialogue, leaving only the words that are spoken and the looks between characters as the framework on which to interpret the story.

The preservation of personal artifacts in the film causes one to wonder about the nature of memories, loss, and the desire or need to move on, extending even to Iris' own life. This helps to draw the viewer into what is a very quiet and meditative film.

I found the actress playing Iris was quite good, especially given that it was her first film and that she had to communicate so much non-verbally. A few of the scenes between her and the preservationist were charged with a lot of sensual energy, even in something as simple as him putting a pair of shoes on her feet.

Notes from the Q&A with director Diane Bertrand: - L'Annulaire is very open-ended, and Bertrand herself admitted the film doesn't give any answers; the audience can imagine what it wants.

  • She tried to be faithful to the novel, but it is very short. Bertrand added the sub-plot with the sailor.

  • When asked why she adapted this novel, Bertrand said when she first read the book, she couldn't stop, and had all these images in her head, which was unusual since the atmosphere in the book is not European. But even upon re-reading the novel she still had the same feelings. She felt aspirations to explore the desire, love, and mysteries of the story.

  • Olga Kurylenko is from the Ukraine, and this was her first film, thus making it difficult to obtain financing. Thus, there was lots of time for her to work on her character; Bertrand asked her to watch lots of films and read a lot of books. Kurylenko felt a bond to the character.

  • The director of photography is also a photographer, which accounts for the look of the film.

  • Bertrand wanted to film something slow like a painting, to make the audience feel as though they are watching moving images.

Minor spoilers below:

  • Bertrand had less direction for Marc Barbe, but she did ask him to not play his scenes with Kurylenko like he wanted to seduce her, even though the character seems to know exactly what she needs. Iris is supposed to feel that he sees inside her as soon as they meet. Barbe agreed that the character does not need to explain himself.

  • In the novel, the shoes which play an important role in the story are black, not red, however Bertrand has a bit of an obsession with the colour red.

  • Bertrand feels the story really starts with the scene where the preservationist puts the shoes on Iris' feet. It is Ogawa's theme that Iris has a feeling of being possessed by the shoes. But when Barbe's character tells Iris that she can't take the shoes off, she gives him a quick look that says "ok, so you want to play this game" and decides to do it, preferring to live something rather than nothing.


Review from 2005 TIFF
I saw this film at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

Takeshis' is the latest film from writer/director Takeshi Kitano. He apparently got the idea for this film shortly after finishing Sonatine (1993). Kitano was previously at the festival in 2003 with Zatoichi, which won the People's Choice Award that year.

Takeshis' finds him playing two roles: one is a version of his real-life actor persona, Beat Takeshi; the other is a mild-mannered convenience store clerk/amateur actor named Kitano. The lives and the dreams of the two men intersect and parallel each other continuously throughout the film.

Actors, scenes, and elements from Kitano's other films (Sonatine, Kikujiro, Brother, and Zatoichi to name a few) show up frequently as the two men have waking dreams involving each other's lives.

The Beat Takeshi of the film is almost a stylized version of his real self, as the public might perceive him. This feeds into the fantasies of the clerk Kitano, who dreams of being Beat Takeshi, taking out his frustrations with the world in a hail of gunfire, just like in the movies.

The film is constantly jumping between reality and fantasy, from one character to another, rooted in the present but with flashes into the future. It can make it difficult to follow at times, leaving you to wonder whose perspective is being shown on screen and whether it exists in the dream world or the real world or something in between.

The film was enjoyable and not overly impenetrable, with its share of humorous moments and trademark flashes of sudden violence. Still, the movie is not quite as accessible as his other films, with the exception of Dolls, and while not strictly necessary, familiarity with Kitano's previous work heightens the viewing experience.

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